Friday mystery object #324 answer

Last Friday I gave you this rather beautiful object to have a go at identifying:

mystery324

I thought it might prove fairly easy for some of you and I wasn’t disappointed. Both in the comments here and on social media there were lots of you who managed to work out what this is, largely from images or illustrations of the model that could be tracked down online.

This is a glass model of a sea-slug made by the Blaschka father-and-son team of lampworkers, who were based in Dresden in the second half of the 19th Century. They made a huge number and variety of models of marine organisms, based on illustrations they found in a variety of scientific publications, which they adapted to enable reproductions in glass.

Beccaria tricolor by Leopold Blaschka (between 1863-1886). From the collection of the Corning Museum of Glass and Digitized by Boston Photo Imaging May 2011

Design illustration of Beccaria tricolor by Leopold Blaschka. From the collection of the Corning Museum of Glass and Digitized by Boston Photo Imaging May 2011

 

Caliphylla mediterranea by S. Trinchese in Æolididae e famiglie affini del porto di Genova, Pt.1 (c.1877-1879)

Illustration of Caliphylla mediterranea by S. Trinchese in Æolididae e famiglie affini del porto di Genova, Pt.1 (c.1877-1879). Image from Harvard University, MCZ, Ernst Mayr Library, via Biodiversity Heritage Library

This particular specimen has the number 373 on its label, which corresponds with the number on the Blaschka design illustration above, so we can be confident that the design is for this model.

20180222_105117

Label for the specimen – note the National Museum of Ireland – Natural History (NMINH) number which starts with the year the specimen was acquired. This specimen arrived in August 1886 and cost the fairly modest sum of 3d (for  some context, an average UK farm labourer’s weekly wage in 1886 was 13s 4d*,  which would be enough to buy 53 of these models).

I should probably say the design is for this type of model, since the Blaschkas produced multiple versions of each design. These sold all around the world to museums and universities, who ordered them from a catalogue to be used in display and teaching in lieu of real specimens, which would often look like nothing more than tiny grey lumps once preserved in alcohol.

To give you an idea of what these creatures look like alive, here’s an image of an undetermined species of Caliphylla

Caliphylla sp. from Réunion, by Nathalie Rodrigues, 2015

Caliphylla sp. from Réunion, by Nathalie Rodrigues, 2015

As you might imagine, as soon as you take one of these animals out of water their complex frills start to stick together like a piece of damp fancy lettuce and it becomes hard to see their leafy structure.

And they really are leafy, because Calliphyla is one of the solar-powered Sacoglossa sea-slugs that steal chloroplasts from algae, which they then store in their bodies and can use to obtain energy from the sun. So all those leafy bits are a result of convergent evolution with plants, providing a large surface area for light to reach the chlorophyll. This means they also end up being well camouflaged against predators, although they may get nibbled by the occasional confused herbivore.

* British Labour Statistics: Historical Abstract 1886-1968 (Department of Employment and Productivity, 1971)

Friday mystery object #322 answer

Last week I gave you this new acquisition for the Dead Zoo to identify:

mystery322

It’s a detail of something large, and it had a lot of you stumped because it looks like a cross between a marble worktop and pork terrine.

However, if you look closely at the bottom left of the image, you may just be able to make out the shape of a sucker-covered arm, because this – as spotted by palfreyman1414 and jennifermacaire – is a big cephalopod.

When I say big, I mean it’s the second largest species after the Colossal Squid (that I’ve talked about before) – that’s right, it’s a view of part of a large ice cube containing a Giant Squid Architeuthis dux Steenstrup, 1857.

Squid holding sailor by Alphonse de Neuville & Édouard Riou, from Hetzel edition of 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, p. 400.

Squid holding sailor by Alphonse de Neuville & Édouard Riou, from Hetzel edition of 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, p. 400.

This individual isn’t actually particularly giant, measuring in at a meagre 5.8m, including its long thin feeding tentacles – quite big, but hardly Kraken-esque. It was caught 118 miles off the Kerry coast after it found its way into shallower waters than the abyssal depths they normally inhabit. You can see details of how it was caught and a photo of the specimen on the Irish Times website.

I haven’t started the process of preserving for the long term yet, as it will require a bit of time to release the kraken from the ice, a large tank and some nasty chemicals – namely a 10% formalin solution and various strengths of Industrial Methylated Spirits (IMS – which is adulterated alcohol), stepping up to 70% in 10-20% increments. I may also need include an alkali buffer in the tank (marble chips are commonly used) since Giant Squid use ammonium chloride in their tissues to increase their buoyancy and that can acidify the solution, leading to accelerated bleaching of the tissues and long-term damage to the specimen.

Even with good preservation it’s unlikely to ever go on display as a full specimen. I can probably find a big enough jar, but the specimen has been dissected and isn’t really looking its best. However, it may be worth showing some of the elements, like an eye, the beak or maybe an arm or tentacle. These may be in good enough condition to use on display to explain some of the interesting features of these denizens of the deep. The rest of the squid will be there for researchers interested in these large, but elusive, molluscs.

Friday mystery object #304

This week I was worried that I didn’t have a mystery object planned, but then I stumbled across this on my phone:

mystery304

 

It’s probably a bit too easy for some of you, so I’d encourage using some cryptic clues and hints to say what it is in the comments box below.

I’ve had a problem with spam comments recently and have switched on a filter to ensure that people’s first posts are approved (regular posters shouldn’t be affected) – fear not, I will be keeping an eye on it and approving first timers!

Have fun!

Friday mystery object #255 answer

Last Friday I gave you this rather interesting looking object to identify, preferably using a rhyme:

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Believe it or not the photographs show either side of the same object – on one side it just looks like a rugose lump and on the other it shows a rather nice natural spiral.

Aside from some great humorous comments by 4utu and Henrik Nielsen, there were some of you who worked out that this is the operculum from a marine snail and even managed to explain that in rhyme – so very well done to Barbara, Chris and especially Lee Post who upped the ante by writing a full verse:

oh purr Q lum from foreign shores
possibly from a near ites door
side door -back door does not exist
main door -strong door , built to resist

Flick Baker went a step further (taxonomically) by identifying that this operculum is from a snail in the genus Turbo with the rhyme: “Gives your engine serious puff, even when she’s running rough“.

Green Turban Shell (Turbo marmoratus) showing aperture closed by the operculum

Green Turban Shell (Turbo marmoratus) showing aperture closed by the operculum

More specifically, this operculum is from the South African Turban Shell Turbo sarmaticus Linnaeus, 1758.

The operculum is a part of many snails that is often forgotten about – it forms a protective trapdoor that the snail closes behind itself when it retreats inside its shell (‘operculum’ means ‘cover’ or ‘lid’ in Latin). This trapdoor helps prevent desiccation in land snails and helps protect against predators in marine snails.

When the animal dies the operculum will often fall off as the body of the animal decays or is eaten, so often it won’t find its way into a museum collection with the rest of the shell. However, opercula can be quite distinctive and are sometimes more useful for identifying a species than the rest of the shell – a handy point to remember.

Friday mystery object #200 answer

Last week I gave you this object to identify:

mystery200

It was a bit of a mean one, since it had no scale bar and the specimen is quite old and dried out, so it doesn’t look much like the living animal.

I had hoped that this would mean that nobody would manage to identify it, but I wasn’t at all surprised when correct suggestions started coming in.

Dave Hone was the first to get the correct kind of animal, although he was a bit thrown by the outer surface – vannabarber was also on the right track, but thrown by the texture. In fact the texture led to some interesting suggestions, including pumice, fossil, bezoar and Pompeian pinecone.

In the end, henstridgesj made the right connection and identified the species, with Anna Pike, rachel and Crispin Wiles all coming to the same conclusion. This is the dried and shrivelled remnant of a Gumboot (or Giant Western Fiery) Chiton Cryptochiton stelleri (Middendorff, 1847). Also known as the ‘Wandering Meatloaf’ for obvious reasons!

Cryptochiton stelleri (Gum Boot Chiton) by Jerry Kirkhart

Chitons are an ancient class of mollusc called the Polyplacophora – a name that means “bearing many (or several) tablets (or plates)”. They get this name from the eight plates (also known as valves) that they have on their backs.

Most chitons have these valves visible (see below), but the huge Gumboot Chiton has the valves hidden underneath their rubbery girdle.

Tonicella lineata

Tonicella lineata showing the eight valves characteristic of chitons

Chitons are remarkably conservative animals, having changed little since the group arose around half a billion years ago. They have few predators and manage to live a blameless and slow-paced life feeding on algae and detritus on rocks in the world’s oceans, that they rasp off with a fairly simple rasping radula.

There are few ways of spending time on the sea shore that are more enjoyable than turning over rocks in the quest for chitons. Except maybe finding washed-up bones. Or maybe finding both together!

chiton-bone

Friday mystery object #199 answer

On Friday I gave you this rather beautiful object to identify,which came to light during our mollusc Bioblitz last week:

mystery199

It turns out that it didn’t prove much of a challenge and was identified to species level in no time. So well done to Kevin, Anna Pike, @benharvey1 and Carlos Grau!

In fact, Carlos went a step further than identifying the specimen and told the very story I was planning to tell in this post. It’s great to hear stories like this about specimens or species, so I’ll share it with you in Carlos’ words:

This picture immediately brought back memories of my old seashell-collecting guide I had when I was about 12 and haven’t looked at for years and years (I will look for it next time I’m at my parent’s). The book said that this species was considered so valuable that fakes were made in rice paste by Chinese artisans, and that the counterfeits are now more rare and valuable than the actual shell! I remember finding that bit of information amazing.

It’s been so long I had to Google the book, it’s “Guide to Seashells of the World” by R. Tucker Abbott.

The animal is… Continue reading